Press Release

Dr. Neil Sheeley Receives 2009 George Ellery Hale Prize

By SpaceRef Editor
March 12, 2009
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Washington, DC: Dr. Neil Sheeley, Jr. of the Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL’s) Space Science Division is this year’s winner of the George Ellery Hale Prize, given by the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society. Dr. Sheeley is recognized “for his continuing outstanding contributions to our understanding of the solar magnetic field, coronal holes, and coronal mass ejections. His wide-ranging observational and theoretical work has laid the foundation for much current research in solar and heliospheric physics, and continues to have important applications in space weather prediction.”

The Hale Prize is an international award given annually to a scientist for outstanding contributions to the field of solar astronomy over an extended period of time. The prize was initiated in 1978 and Dr. Sheeley is the 22nd winner. Dr. Sheeley is the third person from NRL’s Space Science Division to receive the Hale Prize, which is a testimony to the scientific strength of NRL solar physics in the international solar community. The prior winners were Dr. Richard Tousey and Dr. Spiro Antiochos.

Dr. Sheeley won the award in part for his seminal contributions to our understanding of the Sun’s global magnetic field, a subject he has studied in collaboration with Dr. Yi-Ming Wang in NRL’s Space Science Division and with Dr. Jay Boris and Dr. Rick DeVore in NRL’s Laboratory for Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics. His work on the global solar field has resulted in an operational model at NOAA (Wang-Sheeley-Arge model) that is used throughout the world to predict solar wind speeds at Earth for incorporation into space weather models. His analysis of spacecraft data from NRL experiments on the NASA/ESA Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and on the recent NASA Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) has resulted in the discovery of many new solar phenomena, such as “blobs” of plasma flowing radially outward from the Sun that trace the acceleration of the solar wind, and pairs of oppositely directed flows that indicate magnetic field reconnection in the corona, a process thought to be a major driver of solar activity and its consequent space weather effects. Most recently, Dr. Sheeley and his colleagues compared remote sensing images from the STEREO spacecraft with in situ measurements of the solar wind, and found that they could see density compressions in the solar wind sweeping past Earth. Dr. Sheeley currently heads the Solar-Terrestrial Theory Section in the Solar-Terrestrial Relationships Branch, where he is charged with formulating and carrying out a program on interdisciplinary studies of solar and interplanetary phenomena and their relationship to the terrestrial environment.

George Ellery Hale, for whom the prize is named, was a giant of U.S. astronomy. He invented the spectroheliograph and discovered magnetic fields in sunspots. He was a co-founder, and for 30 years, editor of the world’s leading journal for the publication of astrophysical research, the Astrophysical Journal, and was the prime mover in the construction of many ground-based telescopes, including the 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar which bears his name and was for many decades the largest telescope in the world. He designed the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin, and founded the Mount Wilson Observatory in southern California. With chemist Arthur Noyes and physicist Robert Millikan, he converted Pasadena’s Throop Institute into the modern California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Sheeley received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics in 1960 and 1965, respectively, from the California Institute of Technology where he began his solar research using the Mount Wilson 60-foot Tower Telescope, an instrument built by George Ellery Hale. Prior to joining NRL, Dr. Sheeley spent eight years at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society (Solar Physics Division Treasurer, 1974-1977), the American Geophysical Union and the International Astronomical Union. Dr. Sheeley has also served on the Solar Physics Journal Editorial Board, on NASA and National Science Foundation Peer Review committees, on National Academy of Science/National Research Council committees, and as a member of the National Solar Observatory’s Science Advisory Group for Synoptic Optical Long-Term Investigations of the Sun.

In June, Dr. Sheeley will receive the Hale Prize at the 214th meeting of the AAS in Pasadena, California, where he will give a plenary address on his work, and a week later will speak to the Solar Physics Division at its annual meeting in Boulder Colorado.


The Naval Research Laboratory is the Department of the Navy’s corporate laboratory. NRL conducts a broad program of scientific research, technology, and advanced development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of nearly 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, DC, with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, MS; and Monterey, CA.

SpaceRef staff editor.